Colorado Springs residents won’t have to drink recycled wastewater when the city expands its water system, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation has decided.
Recycling was a possibility if the federal government decided to include reuse as an alternative to Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System proposal to pipe water from Pueblo Reservoir. The bureau spent the past 10 months studying six reuse options but rejected all of them because of the cost, which would be twice as much as a pipeline. It also determined that reuse is “less desirable from a standpoint of public health protection,” according to the bureau’s report, issued in late December. “From our perspective, reuse is extraordinarily high cost,” said Utilities planning and permitting manager Keith Riley, noting that reuse is rarely used until a city exhausts other supplies. “Reuse will make sense for Colorado Springs at some point, but right now we have more cost-effective options with Southern Delivery,” he said. Reuse is expensive because it demands a lot of power to push water through a dense membrane, he said. In addition, the process results in a 15 percent waste stream — 15 gallons for every 100 gallons processed — that requires elaborate evaporation and condensing operations before the waste is landfilled. The bureau also found that none of the reuse options better addressed issues raised during public meetings than the pipeline proposals, including surface water flow and quality, channel stability, sedimentation, water rights, aquatic life, wetlands, wildlife and recreation resources. The ruling comes as the bureau prepares to issue its draft Environmental Impact Statement on the city’s proposed pipeline in March after five years of study. After the draft is issued, a series of public meetings will be held before the bureau issues a decision late this year. Then, the city can build the project the bureau approves, or build the “no action” alternative, which doesn’t require bureau approval because it doesn’t rely on federal assets. It calls for piping water from the Arkansas River above Pueblo Reservoir and reliance on a small amount of groundwater starting in 2044. The city’s preferred plan is to pipe 78 million gallons a day from the reservoir along a path that generally follows Interstate 25 to the northeast area of the city. There, the water would be treated and distributed to a growing population, notably residents of the 23,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch being developed, expanding the city’s supply by a third. The $1 billion project must be approved by the bureau because it involves a federal facility — the reservoir. The study of reuse followed the city’s submission of a no-action alternative that didn’t include recycling, prompting the bureau to look at that option to satisfy some citizens. Most advocates of reuse live in Pueblo County and are concerned about greater return flows in Fountain Creek, which meets the Arkansas in Pueblo.